Obama: You don’t need a degree

After years of encouraging young Americans to earn college degrees, President Obama is telling them they just need technical skills, not a degree. The $100 million TechHire initiative will try to persuade employers to hire technical workers with alternative credentials.

“It turns out it doesn’t matter where you learned code, it just matters how good you are at writing code,” Obama said in a speech to the National League of Cities conference. “If you can do the job, you should get the job.”

Dev Bootcamp promises to turn novices into web developers in 19 intensive weeks

Dev Bootcamp promises to turn novices into web developers in 19 intensive weeks

High-tech employers see “non-traditional training as a viable alternative,” writes Issie Lapowsky on Wired. “Training startups like Codecademy and General Assembly, as well as online course companies like Coursera, have been pushing” the idea for years.

TechHire will try to develop “standards for alternative education” and “a guide for employers on how to recruit tech workers from less traditional places,” reports Lapowsky. A company called Knack will “make a standard tech aptitude test free to employers and training organizations.”

The president says employers are losing money by leaving technical jobs unfilled. So, don’t they have an incentive to figure out how to test technical aptitude?

The $100 million would fund programs that help women, minorities, veterans and people with disabilities qualify for tech jobs. More than 300 employers have agreed to consider hiring graduates of these programs.

A principal who matters

Vidal Chastenet

Vidal Chastanet on Humans of New York

Asked about the most influential person in his life by the Humans of New York photo blog, eighth-grader Vidal Chastanet named Nadia Lopez, his middle-school principal. “When we get in trouble, she doesn’t suspend us,” he said. “She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.” The post went viral.

Lopez, who’d founded Mott Hall Bridges Academy in 2010, had been thinking about quitting, reports The Atlantic in Why Principals Matter. She worried her work wasn’t making a difference. Then came the wave of publicity, $1.2 million in donations and a visit with President Obama for the principal and her student.

Lopez told The Atlantic how she’s made Mott Hall a safe haven in Brownsville, Brooklyn, the city’s poorest neighborhood. “In this building, my kids are going to feel like they’re successful,” she said.

‘Free’ college could hurt students

President Obama’s “free” community college proposal could hurt disadvantaged students, I write on U.S. News.

Most lower-income students already pay no tuition. The “college is free” message could encourage more to enroll — but what happens when they get there? These students need remediation and counseling to have any chance of success. Community colleges don’t have the funding to provide strong support services.

The promise of free tuition could make the problem worse by drawing more students to already crowded community college campuses, said Michele Siqueiros, president of The Campaign for College Opportunity.

“If states don’t spend more to increase capacity,” community colleges will end up with long waiting lists, Siqueiros said. Affordability doesn’t help if a student can’t get into the right class or find help figuring out what classes to take, she said.

California’s community colleges are free to about half the students and very low cost to the rest. But students have trouble getting the classes they need. Success rates are very low.

Tennessee is making community college free for recent high school graduates by paying whatever they owe after federal and state aid. Ninety percent of 12th graders have expressed interest. Attracting more middle-class students to community college could create more diverse campuses with better-prepared students.

However, the plan is a subsidy to middle-class parents — not a funding increase for community colleges.

Eduardo Porter writes on The Promise and Failure of Community Colleges in the New York Times. Key quote: “Community colleges have the students with the greatest problems — yet they get the least resources,” said Thomas Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College. “It’s unrealistic to think we can have a better outcome without investing more money.”

‘College Promise’ isn’t likely

From Whiteboard Advisors, Education Insiders predict the future:

‘Free’ college won’t raise graduation rates

College is too late, writes New York Times columnist Frank Bruni in response to President Obama’s call for free community college in the State of the Union speech. Subsidizing tuition won’t help if students aren’t ready to do college-level work.

It’s easy to get students to enroll in community college, writes his colleague, David Brooks. Helping students graduate is hard.

Spending $60 billion over 10 years to make community college free won’t change sky-high dropout rates, Brooks writes.

. . . community college is already free for most poor and working-class students who qualify for Pell grants and other aid. In 2012, 38 percent of community-college students had their tuition covered entirely by grant aid and an additional 33 percent had fees of less than $1,000.

The Obama plan would largely be a subsidy for the middle- and upper-middle-class students who are now paying tuition and who could afford to pay it in the years ahead.

To increase graduation rates, spend some of that $60 billion to subsidize books, transportation, child care and housing, Brooks argues. That way students could work fewer hours and spend more time on their studies.

Community colleges also need funding for guidance counselors to help first-generation students develop a study plan and choose courses that get them quickly to their vocational or academic goal.

And they need to fix remediation, writes Brooks.

Actually, community colleges are trying all sort of remedial ed reforms, but it all goes back to Bruni’s point. If K-12 doesn’t work, then college won’t work.

Universal college, but what about readiness?

President Obama wants to make the first two years of college just like high school. Free, that is.

Robert Fusco teaches division in a remedial math class at a New Jersey community college. (Photo by Elizabeth Redden)

Robert Fusco teaches division in a remedial math class at a New Jersey community college. (Photo by Elizabeth Redden)

“It seems that we can’t fix our high schools, which already send hundreds of thousands of graduates into remedial courses at community (and other) colleges,” writes Checker Finn. Adding two more years of universal education is “nuts.”

Community colleges are heavily subsidized, so tuition is low. In most states, Pell Grants cover the full cost of tuition for low-income students with money left over for books, rent and food.

The challenge isn’t access. It’s readiness—which is the precursor to successful completion of a degree or certificate from the community college. If you’re not prepared for college-level work when you arrive, the odds that you will succeed there are grim.

. . . (Universality) diverts resources and creates windfalls in ways that diminish the likelihood of ever solving the real problem.

Universality is “genius,” argues Richard Kahlenberg in The Atlantic. In Tennessee, almost 90 percent of graduating high school seniors have indicated interest in the state’s tuition-free community college plan, he writes.

The high interest suggests some middle-class and wealthy families whose children would have otherwise attended four-year colleges may be giving two-year institutions a second look. While some argue that free tuition for upper- and middle-class students is a waste of resources, in fact it is in everyone’s interest to ensure that community colleges are socioeconomically integrated.

Community colleges that serve middle- and upper-income students will gain the political capital to get more state funding, he argues.

Obama proposes 2 years of ‘free’ college

President Obama will propose federal funding to support two years of tuition-free community college for students who can maintain a 2.5 grade point average. Obama said the feds would pay three-fourths of tuition, while states would pick up the rest. The full plan should be ready by the State of the Union speech Jan. 20.

President Obama shakes hands before speaking at a  Tennessee community college.

President Obama shakes hands before speaking at a Tennessee community college.

Community college tuition averages $3,800 a year nationwide. In 16 states, it’s less than the federal Pell Grant, which means low-income students pay nothing and have money left over to pay for books and living expenses.

The free-tuition idea started in Tennessee, as I wrote on Community College Spotlight. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam realized the state could afford to fund the “last dollar” of community college tuition, the remnant not not already covered by federal aid. Mississippi, Oregon and Texas legislators have proposed similar plans.

Low-income students get little or no benefit from last-dollar plans, noted Robert Kelchen, a Seton Hall professor, in Inside Higher Ed. Most already pay little or no tuition, but struggle to pay for books, commuting, child care and rent.

Chicago will cover three years of community college tuition for college-ready public school graduates with at least a B average. It’s estimated 85 percent of students’ tuition and fees will be covered by Pell Grants, reports the Chicago Sun-Times.

In every state except New Hampshire and South Dakota, the average tuition and fees at community colleges was lower than the maximum Pell Grant of $5,645 in the 2013-14 academic year. Data from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS), a nationally representative sample of students enrolled in the 2011-12 academic year, show that 38 percent of community college students had their tuition and fees entirely covered by grant aid. An additional 33 percent of students paid less than $1,000 out of pocket for tuition and fees. Eighty-five percent of Pell recipients at community colleges had sufficient grant aid to cover tuition and fees, meaning they would get no additional money from a “free college” program.

Unlike the Tennessee Promise and the Chicago plan, Obama’s proposal appears to go beyond covering the “last dollar.” But nobody’s quite sure how it will work.

I wonder what would happen to Pell Grants for community college students. Would a low-income student who’s paying no tuition still get the full grant to cover living expenses? That risks creating a “Pellfare” program that incentivizes enrollment but not completion.

Decreasing college costs could encourage more students to go to college — or to choose community college over a state university, notes the Washington Post.

A Texas study estimated cutting community college tuition by $1,000 boosted enrollment by 20 percent. However, there’s an unintended consequence: Many black students enrolled in community college instead of a four-year institution, the study found.

Low-income students who could qualify for a selective college sometimes choose a community college instead. “Undermatching” lowers the odds of graduation, researchers say. Community colleges attract many poorly prepared students. Completion rates are low.

Drawing more affluent students to community colleges would end economic segregation, Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, told the Wall Street Journal. “We’ve known since Brown vs. the Board of Education that separate is unequal, and today institutions for low-income and working-class kids vs. middle- and upper-class kids are rarely equal,” he said.

Did Obama screw up Common Core?

Did Obama Screw Up Common Core? asks Fawn Johnson on National Journal.  That is, did the Obama administration turn the Core into a political hot potato by using Race to the Top money to push states to adopt the new standards?

Short answer: Yes.

Some Republican politicians are trying to persuade conservatives to support the Core, Johnson writes. But Democratic support is soft — or nonexistent, especially as Core-aligned tests kick in.

The case against universal preschool

Preschool for all is politically popular, writes Alia Wong in The Atlantic. But it’s not the “panacea” that President Obama and other advocates claim it is, say researchers. It may be counterproductive.

Making it universal is “a very bad idea,” says Ron Haskins, a preschool expert who co-directs the Center on Children and Families at the left-leaning Brookings Institute. “Invest (government dollars) where they’re most needed and that’s with low-income kids. (This) is going to waste a lot of money on families that don’t need it.”

“You have to look at the trade-off,” said Darleen Opfer, the education director at the RAND Corporation. “If you have a state that can’t afford high-quality preschool for everyone, where does the investment really make sense?”

Intensive early-learning programs — done well and at significant cost — can help the children of poorly educated parents develop develop language skills, most agree.

But that won’t “inoculate them” from the effects of mediocre schools, says Bruce Fuller, a Berkeley researcher.

Head Start’s benefits fade in elementary school. “Preschool has been oversold,” says Cato’s Neal McCluskey. “People too often speak as if it’s a certainty that preschool has strong, lasting benefits.”

I’d like to see more investments in helping parents improve their parenting skills.

Obama: (Great) preschool for all

“Sometimes, someone, usually Mom, leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids, which then leaves her earning a lower wage for the rest of her life as a result,” said President Obama in an Oct. 31 speech. “That’s not a choice we want Americans to make.”

Obama called for subsidizing high-quality preschool, so working mothers don’t have to choose between affordable, not-so-great programs or leaving the workforce temporarily. It was taken as a hit at stay-at-home mothers.

In another push for preschool, Education Secretary Arne Duncan added to the perception that the administration wants every parent to choose preschool.

With Hispanic parents, “sometimes you have a cultural piece where people are scared to put their kids in more formal care and they prefer, you know, to do the grandmother, the neighbor, whatever,” he said at a Washington, D.C. event. Work is needed on “how we challenge some of the cultural hesitation” of Hispanic parents, Duncan said.

Obama’s remarks were “a rare allusion to the fact that the intersex pay gap — women earn approximately 77 cents on a man’s dollar — reflects different lifestyle choices the sexes make, responded Selwyn Duke in The New American.

Stay-at-home mothers understand the trade-offs, writes Mollie Hemingway on The Federalist. “When I had my first child, I traded the money of my newspaper job for the far-greater value (for me) of time spent with my totally awesome daughter.” It was a choice.

Men tend to work more and earn more when they become fathers, she adds. Intact families often see a “marriage premium —  more money brought home,” even though mothers tend to prioritize child-raising.

I worked part-time — about 25 hours a week — till my daughter was eight years old. It was great for both of us and my career didn’t suffer, though I knew I was taking a risk that it would.